Easily confused with their coconut cousins (macaroons), macarons are a distinctly different cookie. Made from almond flour, egg whites, and sugar, they are naturally gluten-free. They are then filled with a filling that ranges from creme to a fruit preserve. Sometimes, other nut flours can be swapped for almond flour, but tradition calls for almond. The end result is light and meringue-like and oh-so-colorful as flavors are added to accentuate each flavor.
Although they can be made at home, the recipe for these pastries is notoriously tricky. If any of the factors (ingredients, cooking temperature, etc.) are off in any way, the end result can be underwhelming and barely reminiscent of a "proper" macaron.
Whenever I have a taste for the flaky pasty, I head down to Le Macaron on Winter Park's Park Avenue. This Florida chain of Macaron shops, this cute cafe serves up macarons, chocolates, espresso and gelato. Tucked away in a alcove off the main street, it can be a little hard to miss, but it's grouped together with Paris Bistro and some assorted shops. You'll know you are in the right place when the entrance features two long koi ponds at ground level boarding the sidewalk.
Looking at the plethora of colorful macarons on display, it's easy to get lost in the bright technicolor colors and the flavor listings- some exotic, some familiar. All of the flavors are gluten-free and made with almond flour. The macarons themselves are baked at the original Le Macaron in Sarasota, FL and are shipped to their sixteen locations around the state (and soon to be Puerto Rico). For those of us who are dairy free as well, the selections is unfortunately limited, with most of the cookies being filled with a creme or ganache filling. The gluten and dairy free selection comes down to two flavors: black currant and raspberry. (Sidebar: there used to be a stawberry lime flavor, but it was discontinued due to difficulties with shipping it.)
The black current flavor (cassis in French) is a rich, royal blue. At first, I skipped over this flavor, not knowing what "black current" was. However, upon realizing that it is a berry, I was sold. The pastry features black current preserves as a fulling. The cookies are sweet and cloud-like, and have a hint of fruitiness. To me, the cookie part of the macaron is sweet and flaky while the filling really emphasizes the sweet and sour flavor of the fruit. They are perfect for any berry or fruit lover.
Also for berry lovers, the raspberry flavor (framboise in French) is a pretty, spring-like pink. The cookie is light and fruity. As with the black currant flavor, the full-fledged raspberry flavor comes alive upon reaching the fruity filling in the center of the cookie.
All things considered, I think the black current edges out the raspberry with both flavor and presentation, but the competition is pretty closely tied. I wouldn't turn either down. What's so perfect about these cookie creations is their bite-sized sizing which makes is easy to portion control. For me, 2-3 is a perfectly sized snack or desert which leaves me happy and not feeling the "sugar buzz" that is induced by most sugar-sweetened items. Although I wouldn't have them every day, they are definitely a fun splurge to enjoy when out and about on Park Avenue or enjoying a dinner at one of Winter Park's many restaurants and cafes. Hopefully, the flavor selection will eventually include a wider variety of gluten and dairy free flavors. However, for those without dairy restrictions, the 15+ varieties provide many opportunities for adventure and exploration.
An extra special perk is their free rewards program, which one can join here. For every dollar spent, a point is earned. First time users will receive 25 points upon registering online. Physical cards can be obtained at the store or a virtual card can be obtained online (a phone number serves as the card number). For every 50 points accumulated, a $5.00 reward is loaded on the card. In my opinion, Any program that helps me get free macarons faster is a keeper in my book and yet another reason splurge at Le Macaron!
Address: 216 N. Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
Cuisine: Macarons, espresso, gelato, specialty chocolates
Ideal For: Dessert, snacks
Price: $1.80 per macaron
Accessibility: The store itself is small, but fairly accessible. There are no tables in the shop, but ones in the courtyard outside are standard height
Disclaimer: Restaurant reviews are based upon the information I have at the time of the review and do not reflect changes in supplier or availability of items. Please contact the restaurant directly for up-to-date information and feel free to to contact me with any questions or comments. I was not compensated for this review and it is a reflection of my personal opinion.